The Squirrel Cages of St. Tammany Parish

The ACLU of Louisiana is alleging that prisoners at the St. Tammany Parish Jail are frequently held in 3 ft. by 3 ft. cells.  The minimum standard for pets in the Parish is twice that size.

Sheriff Jack Strain claims the cells are only used as a last resort for prisoners who are a threat to themselves and others.  See, if you can’t move, it’s hard to commit suicide.

I have only been inside the St. Tammany Parish Jail on one occasion, but the ACLU report isn’t the first time I have heard about the infamous “squirrel cages”. 

When I visited with Kelvin Kaigler at the jail, I learned that one of the defendants in the Jace Washington case  signed a confession after being held in one of these cages, deprived of toilet priviliges, for several days. 

The full list of allegations can be found in the open letter from the Louisiana ACLU to Sheriff Jack Strain

Sheriff Strain shared the ACLU letter with Dr. Demaree Inglese, medical director at the St. Tammany Jail.  Inglese sent a tart response to ACLU executive director Margorie Esman explaining that the cells are only used when prisoners are booked into the jail and when prisoners are deemed suicidal.  The squirrel cages, jail officials claim, allow staff to monitor a large number of individuals at a single time.

St. Tammany Parish Courthouse

Strain says the ACLU should have contacted his office if they were concerned about conditions in his jail.  

That would have been unwise.  Once the open letter went public, prisoners received a measure of protection from backlash.  Alerting the sheriff to their allegations prematurely would have placed prisoners at risk.

Picture inside the St. Tammany Sheriff's Office

The St. Tammany Parish Jail stands in marked contrast to the posh new St. Tammany Sheriff’s building Sheriff Strain recently erected to his immortal glory.  Pictures featuring paramilitary police operations line the walls and the reception area resembles the lobby of a posh hotel.

Conditions at the Jail couldn’t be more different.  That’s the idea.  The overcrowded lockup and Mr. Strain’s personal palace are designed to lionize law enforcement while dehumanizing offenders.

This is the same Sheriff, after all, who created a small sensation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina by telling a New Orleans news team that trashy people from New Orleans entering his parish could expect a visit from a sheriff’s deputy.  Folks with dreadlocks were considered especially worthy of official contempt.

It comes as no surprise that both Kelvin Kaigler and Jace Washington sport dreadlocks.  Both men were convicted by St. Tammany juries after Jack Strain and his boys pressured jailhouse snitches into making false allegations.  In Washington’s case, written recantations from the snitches proved inadequate.  A judge recently ruled that the men were responding to threats from Mr. Washington.

Kelvin Kaigler and James Bishop were convicted on the perjured testimony of Frank Knight, possibly the most thoroughly compromised and unconvincing snitch in the state of Louisiana.  And that’s quite a distinction.

The ACLU appears to be getting the best of the back-and-forth allegations.  Their response to Mr. Strains disingenuous counter-charges  show that Esman, Schwartzmann and company have their ducks in a row and won’t be backing down. 

The story was picked up today by the New York Daily News

The text of a recent article in the New Orleans  Times-Picayune appears below.

ACLU, St. Tammany Sheriff’s Office continue to spar over treatment of prisoners

Robert Rhoden, The Times-Picayune

The battle between the Louisiana chapter of the ACLU and the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office over the use of phone-booth sized cages to hold suicidal jail inmates has heated up, with the civil rights group and the agency issuing letters openly accusing one another of distorting the facts.

The letters come after the local American Civil Liberties Union blasted the Sheriff’s Office last week for keeping suicidal prisoners in “squirrel cages,” 3-foot-by-3-foot cages usually used to hold inmates for about an hour while deputies are doing paperwork. In some cases, the ACLU said, prisoners have reported being held in the cages for more than a month at a time.

In a response to those charges, the jail’s mMedical director, Dr. Demaree Inglese, argued in a letter Friday that the cages are used only as a last resort, “when other means…are not suitable for the situation,” and said alternative options were no less restrictive to inmates. Sheriff’s Office officials have said the cages give deputies the ability to monitor the activities of inmates to prevent them from attempting to hurt themselves.

“(We) make every effort to utilize alternative measures when possible and to minimize patients’ stays in the booking cells, but my first priority must always be protecting the health and life of the inmates, even if, at times, comfort must be sacrificed,” Inglese wrote. “Unless there is a radical shift in Louisiana policy and mental-health funding, I fully expect this situation to persist or likely worsen in the future.”

Inglese flatly denied allegations by the ACLU that the jail used the cages for all prisoners and that their requests to be let out to use the bathroom were often ignored. He also wrote that while prisoners are forced to wear shorts, actually cut-off pants from orange prison jumpsuits, while in the cages, this is not a form of punishment but a way to prevent inmates from using their clothes to hang themselves.

ACLU Executive Director Majorie Esman said the organization stands by its allegations, which were the result of a “very careful investigation spanning many months.” And, at its base, Esman wrote that both her organization and the Sheriff’s Office agree on the central issue, and the civil-rights group’s most serious allegation.

“There is one thing we agree upon: you are housing human beings in cages that are smaller than the St. Tammany Parish Code authorizes for dogs,” Esman wrote.

Esman accused the Sheriff’s Office of being “disingenuous” in saying that her organization had not visited the jail. She further argued that the cages, rather than offer protection, may contribute to suicides at the facility because inmates who “fear the shame and pain of the cages will therefore not report problems.”

Inglese, who has testified about conditions at the jail for the ACLU in a case the organization is bringing against state agencies in an effort to improve treatment options for mentally ill inmates, argued that he has tried to seek better services for mentally ill patients. But, with little ability to transfer inmates to medical facilities, the jail must “provide the best care they can in the jail environment.”

“I am curious why the ACLU is now suddenly interested in mental health services in the jail when we have been begging for assistance for over three years with no response,” Inglese wrote.

Esman replied, “(In) addition to relying upon the state for assistance, you have an obligation to take corrective measures yourself.”

15 thoughts on “The Squirrel Cages of St. Tammany Parish

  1. When Joan of Arc was captured, part of her punishment was a “very small cage” in the local dungeon before she was executed. The North Vietnamese kept American POWs in bamboo cages about 3×3 feet. They came out unable to walk or stand. the Nazis used cages about the size of gym lockers. Throughout history keeping a person in a small cage has been considered torture. I think the St. Tammany sheriff should be charged with just that, torture. If an inmate is likely to commit suicide, what is wrong with a 6X8 cell with a toilet with no seat and a mattress on the floor at least until he or she can be medicated or sent to a mental health facility (as if in Louisiana he would be. Judges decide if a person is insane or retarded, not psyhologists.) .

    But this is Louisiana where people only matter to the government BEFORE THEY ARE BORN. And the dreadlock stuff, well, St. Tammany is one of the KKK headquarters parishes. A woman from Arkansas was killed by a KKK group a while back when she backed out on joining.

  2. i was arrested noumourious times been in these cages with 3 peole an my self ive seen people in them 4 days at a i feed my animals better than they feed inmates !! myself never was a problem inmate 4hrs at the most 4 booking in sqeril cage

  3. my 2nd visit 2 the jail i spent 21days in the holding tank slept on concrete sometimes did not get a blanket till after 3am and no pillows some people use there shoes if they had them a terrible way 2 treat a houman

  4. I recently had a brief stay in the Covington jail for a traffic ticket I payed 10 years ago but Jefferson Parrish neglected to remove it from there computer system. I was put in a squirrel cage for booking for about 3 hrs 2 of it I had another guy in there with me, then I was put in a holding tank for about a hour. When it came time to sign my bond papers I went back in the squirrel cage for another 3 hrs when I asked for a cup of water the CO put his hand on his tazer and dared me to ask for water again. Now all of this was for a traffic violation. Jack Strain has to be one of the most disgusting creature on this planet. My little brother was also years back arrested but St Tammany sheriff’s during his stay he was tazed by 2 officers for “running his mouth” on tazer right under his heart the other in his groin. Strain has to be held accountable for his CO’s and his deputy’s action hopefully the ACLU lawyers will nail his country ass to the wall.

  5. My husband is a victim and has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by court-appointed psychologists. The court ordered for him to go back to jail after the squirrel cage incident, so he ran not realizing what he was doing. Now he’s looking at five years for running, and the court is not taking the cage incident into consideration. I pray to God that one day these officers and the state will take responsibility for what they have done, and stop torturing my husband and our future.

  6. I have much more on this jail, the whole DA operation and court system!!!!!!!! The FBI , anty . Generals office should get involved and put a stop to all of it!!! It is the most abused system I have ever in live seen!! They make their on laws!!! It is crazy!! I promise they are being exposed as we speak!!!!!!

  7. I just spent 47 days in St. Tammany parish with the first 6 days being in the tank which is concrete and metal-no blankets till 10 pm if your lucky which you are usually not they come more like 1am and they take them up at 5am. You do not get a matress and it is freezing cold I became very sick from being in the holding tanks and the squirrell cages are a joke they use them to abuse people plain and simple. I have a list of things that go on there that I am bringing to the attention of the news media soon because I never in my life have been made to feel like less than a human…I swear they trained at Nazi Pow training camps. Don’t get me wrong a few are nice like Zanders, Molero, and Young but the majority are wanting to mace you, shake down the dorms and they actually take things that people need like extra uniform…you get two they take one how can you keep up with cleanliness like that??? I could go on and on but I will add one more thing a young girl was left in squirrell cage 14 days with no bath or shower and in the tanks you don’t even get soap god forbid a toothbrush..they should be ashamed I hope no one ever treats their families like the way they treat the prisoners inside those walls

  8. These stories are terrible.

    The ACLU only knows about current conditions if you tell them; please fill out a complaint form at if you or someone you know has been placed in the cages.

  9. I was arrested in august 2011 for a seat belt ticket and they found my friends prescription in the car. They had me in the cage for a long time with 2 other people most of the time. It was my first time ever getting into trouble and i didn’t even give them any problems. The worst experience of my life.

  10. I was recently arrested in the Covington jail, for a misdemeanor..i was put in a squirrel cage for booking for about a hour, then they put me in the concrete cold hard medal was around 10pm .. trustees came by cell the concrete cells to give us blankets, it was small some had holes in them.we had not mats or pillows people used their shoes and rolls of toilet paper .It was about 18 to 20 guys in that one tank, with these big large stoops where you can sit facing each the inside of this tank it has a toilet wit a water fountain/sink on it, its so nasty!! did i mention you have to use it in-front everyone!! the co/guards/interrogator/sarges would come by and would ignore inmates and would lie about their situations. and bonds they would raise prices on bonds just to get more money..and they charge for they hold inmates for days in tanks..Ive seen up to three people in little squirrel cages all six of them..The food is horrible, people who have no bond, will be set for roll back so they would get out of tanks or squirrel cages ..but the ones who have to tanks.! everyday you get the food other inmates in the back/dorms had ate the day before..and they get fresh food.. we eat like dog in there.!the food have no herbs or spices in them.. and its nasty..and “unreal” dont even be hot..can you imagine fixing food with no herbs and then set plates like in pre-school in a medal tray rack with a warm temperature until the next day and serving it to people.” also when its time for a shower they make you take off every thing except your boxers and socks, but it have to be white socks and boxers ..if you have on any different color they make you strip naked in to the uniform with no cant take a private shower have to be naked in front everybody..the sarge would not give no one a tower until we take off all our cant call no one on the phones in tanks..and they dont let you get sunlight..until go to the back after two week or so….to be continued !!

  11. My brother has been over sentenced. His ex-wife concocted allegations for charges that can not be proven, in fact they have been disproved, yet he still has to serve time in St. Tammany Jail. He has not been given a release date and we have found there to be 3 different dates floating around that range from 6 to 18 months. He has been taken to hearings without his attorneys being notified and then dismissed because there was a clerical error. He tried for the program where he could be housed at the ex-wardens farm and allowed to work as long as he gives them 60% of his paycheck, he was denied because he was not going to be sentenced long enough to make it worth their energy. His ex-wife is well connected with the D.A.’ s office. She was allowed to be late for the initial court hearing then when the charges were not going to stick, she whispered to the D.A. and then someone took the information and whispered to the Judge, then he was sentenced for an unknown amount of time. We requested for 1 of his attorneys to look in to his situation further, but he declined stating that he didn’t want any one in his firm to get hurt. We all agreed to just let it ride out as he was to be there for only 3-6 months, well, that has come and gone and the newest date for release is another 8 months. Again, there is no real date. No one believes what has been happening, “That isn’t legal” well, I guess it doesn’t have to be legal in St. Tammany. They make up things as they go, treat people however they want and I don’t understand how this can keep going on. My brother has confirmed the horror stories I have read. He said it is all very real. When he ever gets out, he will stay away from LA. His life has been destroyed. He has been unable to pay his child support during this time which is $2200.00 per month. He will have lost his job and is in a small industry with very few openings other than overseas, but he can’t use a passport because of his child support issue. I hope his ex-wife understand the consequences of her concocted stories. If anyone has the names and numbers of attorneys others that may be able to help, we could sure use it.

  12. St tammany parish is redneck! From the jackbooted thugs of the sheriffs dept. to the D.A.’s office. Its flat out disgusting! And its all about money. The reason people are in jail in st tammany is money….bilking the feds.! These assclowns get paid per arrest. Stay the fuck away from st tammany! It’s 1930’s Germany!!!!

  13. Let me tell you those squrel cages are just a drop in the bucket of the terrible things that go on at that jail they leave inmates in holdind cell sometimes a month at a time with no blankets no baths no toothbrushes it is very inhuman the holding cells are designed to hold 20 max I have seen 40-50 in the at a time someone needs to get jack strain ass fired and hire new jailers

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